In this post I will attempt to chronicle the steps my associates and I took to complete the configuration of, and to eventually create this blog following Juan Treminio’s lead. Small portions of Juan’s blog post are reproduced here, with permission, so that you can follow along in his work. Those passages appear with a colored background like so:

…I will walk you through the complete process of setting up a static website that you can deploy new versions with a simple git push.

Pushing to your repo will trigger an automated build process that will generate minified HTML/CSS/JS files, package them in an Nginx image, add a new image to Docker Hub, deploy a new container on your host and automatically generate and maintain free SSL certificates using Let’s Encrypt

The only prerequisite is you have Docker installed on your local machine. All other dependencies will be in Docker containers.

Technologies and Services

We’ve added one tool, Docksal, to Juan’s original workflow, so the complete list of technologies and services now includes:

  • Docksal for creating and managing a quick-and-easy local environment for development and testing,
  • Hugo for static site generator,
  • Ansible for configuring the server,
  • Docker for containers,
  • Traefik for routing traffic to correct container, and automatic SSL certificates,
  • Watchtower for keeping latest Docker image running on your site.
  • Let’s Encrypt for free, automated SSL certificate.

Production Server Configuration - A Simple One-Time Process

If you have root access to a networked Linux server it can be configured as a production host with a script that Juan has provided.

I have created a simple Ansible-based configuration that

  • installs Docker,
  • opens ports 80, 443 and 8080 on firewall (optional),
  • adds Traefik and configures Let’s Encrypt support,
  • creates a Watchtower container.

It’s important to note that Juan’s ./init script is installed “locally” on your development host, presumably a desktop or laptop workstation, and it makes changes ‘remotely’ to your production server. To install ./init just follow the instruction provided in his docker-bootstrap project.

I had a sudo-enabled account, but not root access, on my production server so I copied the public SSH key from my laptop to the server’s root account so that ./init could do it’s thing. It worked wonderfully.

Juan’s blog post explains the individual parts of the process including a sample of the output you should see if things go well. The process is also idempotent, so you can run it more than once with no ill-effects, and it will only do what’s required to get your server configured. A little trial-and-error is all it took for me to get it done, and the errors were never catastrophic nor the trials too stressful.

Next Up… Docksal

This is the point where I suggest we diverge from Juan’s workflow, just for a little while. Install Docksal on your local machine using the instructions provided at While you are there, visit the ‘docs’ pages and take a quick tour of the documentation so you get a sense of what Docksal is, and how to use it. Pay particular attention to the section dedicated to ‘fin’, the command you’ll use to do nearly everything. If you’re like me, you won’t regret this little side-trip.

Once Docksal is installed you will find a new, hidden .docksal directory in your ‘home’ directory; this is where Docksal lives on your machine.

Now open a local terminal and navigate within to any directory of your choice. I did this expecting to eventually create a group of static web sites destined for Grinnell’s static server, so in my case:

cd ~
mkdir static-sites
cd static-sites

Next, invoke the Docksal fin command in your terminal. fin with no trailing arguments should produce a ‘help’ screen that begins something like this:

Docksal control cli utility v1.79.4

Usage: fin <command>

Management Commands:
  db <command>             	Manage databases (fin help db)
  project <command>        	Manage project(s) (fin help project)
  ssh-key <command>        	Manage SSH keys (fin help ssh-key)
  system <command>         	Manage Docksal (fin help system)

  bash [service]           	Open shell into service's container. Defaults to cli
  logs [service]           	Show service logs (e.g., Apache logs, MySQL logs) and Unison logs (fin help logs)

To create your Hugo project using Docksal enter the command: fin project create. The terminal will prompt you to enter a name for your project. I choose blogs-McFateM because this blog is intended to be one among many destined for the static server. Please be sure to remember your project name as we will refer to it often.

Next, Docksal will present you with a list of zero-configuration project types and it prompts you to select one. Choose 11. Hugo by entering the number eleven and hitting return. Nothing has actually happened because Docksal gives you an indication of what’s about to happen should you choose to proceed. Enter y to proceed or n to abort.

If you cleared Docksal to proceed it will spin up a set of containers including:

  • a command line interface (CLI) service to respond to fin commands,
  • an Apache web service,
  • a virtual host (v-host) proxy service,
  • a DNS service to resolve web addresses, and
  • an SSH-agent to help manage permissions and access to your project.

Note that if the creation of the DNS and/or SSH-agent services needs elevated privileges you may be prompted by the process to enter your local user’s password to authorize them.

The creation of your new Hugo project also created a new directory with the name you specified, and with its own .docksal subdirectory. In my case the ~/static-sites/blogs-McFateM directory was created along with ~/static-sites/blogs-McFateM/.docksal. This new .docksal subdirectory includes definitions for some new fin commands that are specific to Hugo.

If all is well, the output of your fin project create command should end with something like this:

Compiling a static site...

                   | EN  
  Pages            | 10  
  Paginator pages  |  0  
  Non-page files   |  0  
  Static files     |  3  
  Processed images |  0  
  Aliases          |  1  
  Sitemaps         |  1  
  Cleaned          |  0  

Total in 301 ms

  Open http://static.blogs-McFateM.docksal
  To develop a Hugo site with real-time updates use fin develop (see for details)

  Read more about Hugo on

There’s other useful information included in the output of fin project create so I encourage you to look back at the details.

fin commands always act relative to your current working directory. So if you navigate within your terminal to your new project name folder, the equivalent in my case of cd ~/static-sites/blogs-McFateM, you can launch Hugo-specific ‘custom’ commands. Navigate to your new project directory and enter fin with no arguments. Once again you’re presented with a ‘help’ screen, but this time the output ends with a few ‘custom’ commands. They include:

Custom commands:
  compile                  	Compile a static site from Hugo sources
  develop                  	Start Hugo server for real-time development
  hugo                     	Run Hugo commands <accepts params>
  init                     	Initialize demo Hugo site

fin develop is the command you will use most. From your project’s directory entering fin develop is all it takes to compile your site (Hugo generates static content into a public subdirectory during this process), serve it via a new local DNS entry, and monitor content or configuration changes you make to your site. fin develop will automatically compile any change you make on-the-fly.

When you run fin develop you should see something like this:

Marks-MacBook-Air:blogs-McFateM mark$ fin develop
Server will be available at: http://blogs-McFateM.docksal

                   | EN  
  Pages            | 22  
  Paginator pages  |  0  
  Non-page files   |  0  
  Static files     | 20  
  Processed images |  0  
  Aliases          |  6  
  Sitemaps         |  1  
  Cleaned          |  0  

Total in 176 ms
Watching for changes in /var/www/{content,data,layouts,static,themes}
Watching for config changes in /var/www/config.toml
Serving pages from memory
Running in Fast Render Mode. For full rebuilds on change: hugo server --disableFastRender
Web Server is available at http://blogs-McFateM.docksal/ (bind address
Press Ctrl+C to stop

Change detected, rebuilding site
2018-11-18 20:43:48.312 +0000
Source changed "/var/www/content/post/": WRITE
Total in 29 ms

Note that the site address created by fin project create and fin develop are different since the former prepends a subdomain of static to the project name. As long as the container is running you can use either address, but I recommend using the later address created by fin develop since changes are automatically compiled in that environment, as mentioned below.

While fin develop is running (note that you must enter Ctrl-C in your terminal to stop it) you can open a tab to the site’s address (it appears in your output) in any web browser on your local machine and your site should appear. If you make a change to the site’s content or configuration, and save the change, fin develop should automatically compile the change for you. Having made a change just return to your site’s tab in your browser and click ‘refresh’; your change should appear.

Using these simple steps you can quickly and easily configure, change, test and repeat! When you want to suspend your work just return to your terminal, enter Ctrl-C if fin develop is still running, then enter fin stop. The fin stop command will terminate the containers associated with your project, but it won’t remove them.

When you want to resume work on your project just open a terminal, navigate back to your project directory, and enter fin up. This will rebuild, if necessary, and restart your containers in short order. Note that fin up will report a local URL that is supposed to open your site; however, that address may not work properly. To get back into development just follow-up, pun intended, with a fin develop command and visit the address that it reports. Also, don’t forget to refresh your browser after each saved change to your content or configuration.

Build and Test Locally

Docksal is great for development, but in this case we need something closer to ‘reality’ to do some ‘real’ testing before pushing to production. The process that Juan outlines will ultimately build a lightweight Docker ‘multi-stage’ image that includes Hugo, Nginx, and your Hugo project. That Docker image is really what we need to test, and it’s not hard to do.

I encourage you to look at Juan’s blog post beginning with this section:

Manual deployment process steps

With a single command Hugo takes all your HTML/Markdown content and generates static files in /public

Make sure you run these commands on your local machine, in a terminal opened to your project directory:

docker image build -t hugo-test .
docker image ls
docker container run –rm -it -p 8080:80 hugo-test

These commands should produce an image named/tagged hugo-test, and run that image; one that should be identical to what you’ll eventually push to production. While the container is running you should be able to visit your project at http://localhost:8080.

Troubleshooting - My Experience

If the docker image build -t hugo-test . command fails to build an image, as my first attempt did, be sure to look at your config.toml file carefully. Initially, my config.toml file didn’t contain any theme key/value pair, presumably because it came from a ‘sample’ project that intentionally left the theme definition up to the user. The docker image build command includes a step that will ‘minify’ many of the project’s parts to reduce overall image size. If you don’t define a theme in your config.toml file minify won’t work.

You may find that setting the right baseurl or baseURL key/value pair in config.toml can be tricky. I find myself changing this value depending on the environment, local or production, that I’m targeting. As I understand it, the proper form for the baseurl value depends on your host, obviously, and your theme. This blog is designed to run from a ‘path’, that is to say its address consists of a host ( with a trailing /path like so: I found that specifying just the /path with NO leading slash in baseurl did the trick, like so: baseurl = blogs/McFateM. This form seemed to work well across all hosts… my local Docksal development instance, the local image created earlier in this section, and in production too. Your mileage may vary. If your project loads as simple text, with no theme, or if your front page works but others do not, then your baseurl could be to blame.

Finally, if you can’t spin up your local Docker image at http://localhost:8080, and you see Docker errors about port conflicts, then something (Nginx servers are notorious for this) on your local machine is probably already listening to port 8080. Rather than trying to find and fix the source of the problem, simply change the port mapping in your docker container run... command to something like this: docker container run --rm -it -p 8081:80 hugo-test. If that’s successful you should be able to visit your project site at http://localhost:8081.

Another Reason to Build/Test Locally

In my next post we’ll return largely to Juan Treminio’s post to push this blog to production (Yay!) with the help of Docker Hub and automated builds. However, when I tried setting up an automated build I ran into problems, and I’ll discuss them in the upcoming post. Fortunately, I found that I could push to Docker Hub the hugo-test image created in this section, and bypass the automated build in order to help work out the issues. More on that in my next post.